FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Family Worship–Then and Now, Part 2

with Don Whitney | January 17, 2006
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So how do you "do" family worship, anyway? On today's broadcast, author Don Whitney, associate professor of Biblical Spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, talks with Dennis Rainey about the need for family worship.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • So how do you "do" family worship, anyway? On today's broadcast, author Don Whitney, associate professor of Biblical Spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, talks with Dennis Rainey about the need for family worship.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Don Whitney talks with Dennis Rainey about the need for family worship.

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Family Worship–Then and Now, Part 2

With Don Whitney
January 17, 2006
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Don: Well, despite the desire that many men have to begin family worship, there are many who simply lack the manly resolve to do it.  The truth is, I'm ashamed to begin.  Husbands, fathers, all you have to say is something like this – "I've come to believe that the Bible teaches I should be leading us in family worship, and I want to start today."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 17th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Although it's two weeks into the New Year, there may still be some New Year's resolutions you need to consider.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.

Dennis: Bob, when you think of the concept of worship, what comes to your mind?  I mean, not – well, what comes to your mind?

Bob: Well, I think the first thing that comes to most people's minds is the music at church.  You know, we usually say, "How was worship this morning?"  And, actually, it kind of bugs me that that's the first thing that comes to mind, because our worship ought to be much more than that, and we ought to think about worship as more than that, but we've kind of fallen into this cultural trap where worship just means music.

Dennis: And style of music that you happen to like, which has to drive pastors up the wall satisfying the age ranges in churches today.  When you think of family worship, what do you think about that?

Bob: I think of regret …

Dennis: Singing some songs with your family?

Bob: I think of the fact that I wish I had started earlier and had been more faithful throughout the raising of my family to get our family together for some kind of spiritual interaction on a daily basis that would point all of us toward God.

Dennis: And when I think of family worship, I think of us singing together, and that's really a sad thought for our family, because genetically speaking, we don't have any of what the Lepines have.  They're kind of like the von Trapp family, you know, have all the genetic musical genes.  God deposited all those in one family, and our family didn't get any of them.  But, you know, family worship ought to be a part of all of our – well, all of our habits as a family, whether or not it's just you, as a couple, husband and wife, or with your children or when you get together with your extended family, your children, if they're grown and bringing home their families.  Family worship ought to be a time when you give God the credit.  You show Him admiration, affection, affirmation.

Bob: We're getting some help this week on this subject from a friend of ours, Don Whitney, who has spoken on the subject of family worship encouraging moms and dads to bring the family together for regular times, daily times, of looking at the Scriptures, praying, singing before God.

Dennis: Yes, and there's probably no one better to do that than an associate professor of biblical spiritually at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  Don Whitney is a prolific writer, but he's a church historian, and on this subject, Bob, he's done a great job of going back in history and looking at how some of the great saints who have led the church in the past, have led their families in worship.

Don: The great Jonathan Edwards is known for his intellectual prowess and for his devotional passion, his preaching, his writing, of course, but we should also remember him for the model of Christian family life, which he and Sarah model and the influence this had on their 11 remarkable children.

 Edwards, according to his biographer, George Marsden, began the day with private prayers followed by family prayers – by candlelight in winter.  Care for his children's souls was, of course, his preeminent concern.  In morning devotions, he quizzed them on Scripture with questions appropriate to their ages.  Each meal was accompanied by household devotions and at the end of each day Sarah joined him in his study for prayers.

 Coming closer to our time now, one of the most influential preachers of the last century, Martyn Lloyd-Jones of London has written about, his biographer, Ian Murray, who was also assistant pastor for a while, wrote that "family worship was an essential part of Lloyd-Jones's Christianity.  Family prayer," he says, "marked the close of every day," and after his death, Bethan Lloyd-Jones was to say that it was here that she experienced her greatest loss.

 Had I time I have others before me, contemporaries of our own, speaking of the value.  So we have seen not only that the Bible clearly implies that God deserves to be worshipped daily in our homes by our families, but this is the testimony of the saints of God throughout all history; that God deserves to be worshipped daily in our homes by our families.

 We could summarize the views of our Christian heroes with a sentence from Jonathan Edwards – "every Christian family ought to be, as it were, a little church."  And, of course, part of the life of any church, including the little church at home, is worship.  So we've seen it biblically, we've seen it historically, now, how do we do this?

 Basically, there are three elements to family worship – read, pray, sing.  Three words, three syllables, 12 letters.  You can remember that without notes – read, pray, sing.  First, read and explain the Bible – not that things have to be in this order, but read and explain the Bible.  The younger the children, the more you are going to want to use narrative passages and shorter sections, of course, but read and explain the Bible.

 Second, pray – I would encourage you to pray through a passage of Scripture, perhaps pray through the passage that you ready or pray through a psalm.  If it's the Twenty-Third Psalm you're going to pray through that day, you read "The Lord is my Shepherd," Lord, thank You that You are our Shepherd and that You are a good Shepherd.  Lord, would You shepherd us through this decision that's before us as a family, and shepherd my children tomorrow, O Lord, lead them not into temptation, deliver them from evil.  And I pray, Lord, they would come to confess You as their Shepherd; that they would give themselves to be sheep of the Lord Jesus."  And when nothing else comes to mind, go on to the next line, "I shall not want," and pray through a few verses of a psalm.

 And, third, to sing – read, pray sing.  Get hymnals for everyone in the family.  Chances are, at many churches, they have old closet full of old hymnals somewhere that have duct tape on the spine or whatever that no one is using.  They'd be happy for you to take them away.  In other words, what you do in family worship is the same thing you would do in congregational worship, except for those elements that are, by nature, congregational – the preaching of the Word of God, the ordinances, some of those things, but nevertheless we still have the Word of God, we read that, comment on that.  You can pray, you can sing, you can do that alone. 

 Now let me give you some optional things, if you have time.  This is a great time for catechizing your children.  Use Spurgeon's catechism, "Truth and Grace" books, whatever you can use as a means of catechizing your children, it's a great time, and if they're being catechized at church, use it as a time for review.  It's a great way to teach and discuss and learn the things of God.

 This is a great time, also, for Scripture memory done together as a family and for other reading.  By that, I mean anything from Christian reading to just books you're reading as a family – if time permits, you know, you're reading through "The Little House on the Prairie" series with your children, or "The Chronicles of Narnia."  You might read something like that, and then you go from that into the more formal family worship time, but it's because you're all together, that's when you might do some family reading – perhaps at the end you might choose to do that.  Read a Christian biography, read "Pilgrim's Progress" together with the family, something like that – if time permits.

 Some miscellaneous comments now about the how-tos.  Brevity, first of all – otherwise it can become tedious.  That's the last thing you want for your children.  It's always easy to lengthen the time if things are going well but plan for brevity.  Second, regularity – try to have a regular time each day for family worship.  For some it works best to have it early in the morning before the family scatters.  For many, it's at the evening meal together.  If that's your choice, I would suggest that part of setting the table is having the Bible, the hymnals, whatever else is there, as part of setting the table.

 I would also practically say don't let anyone get up until you have family worship because once you start people saying, "Well, just let me put this in the refrigerator," or "Just let me make this phone call," everyone else becomes impatient, and it can unravel.  So it's just part of the experience, and no one leaves until we have family worship.  And, for others, late in the evening at bedtime, just before bedtime is best.

 But whatever time you choose, consider the wisdom of having a regular time when the family is already together, if possible.  It's so difficult for our families to get together nowadays, so rather than trying to create another time, try to have family worship at a time when you're already used to being together.  But if it requires adding another time, it's worth it, do whatever it takes.

 Well, despite the desire that many men have to begin family worship, there are many who simply lack the manly resolve to do it.  J.W. Alexander in his book, "Thoughts on Family Worship," he answers eight common objections to starting family worship but then says "a single reason operates with more force than all the others put together.  It's when a man says to himself, 'The truth is, I'm ashamed to begin.'"  This is when a man awakens to his responsibility to this matter but realizes it's because he has failed to lead in family worship for so long, he's embarrassed to try to begin now, or he fears the sneer of some family member when he says he wants to begin daily family worship, or he's afraid he's not capable of leading it.  He doesn't know the Bible well, or he doesn't think he knows what to do, or maybe he's even tried something like this before, and he didn't stick with it, now he's embarrassed.  For some men it may be nothing more than the simple embarrassment, they don't know what to say to their wives, to their family, to get started.

 All you have to say is something like this – "I've come to believe that the Bible teaches I should be leading us in family worship, and I want to start today.  I have a lot to learn about it, but I want to do what's right.  Will you join me" – something like that.  Husbands, fathers, have the manly resolve of Jacob in Genesis 35, verses 2 and 3, so Jacob said to his household, to all that were with him, "Put away the foreign gods, which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments, let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God."  Like Jacob, have the manly resolve to tell your family that you want to make an altar to God in your home, and you want to lead your family in the worship of God.  You want to make your home a place of the worship of God.  Exhort them to pull away as Jacob did – anything which would keep them from worshipping God with you, arise and follow you in the worship of God.

 Let me tell you about one more man who had the manly resolve of Jacob in this matter and one closer to our own time.  Rick Husband was commander of the space shuttle Columbia, and among the seven astronauts killed on February 1, 2003, when the spacecraft broke apart and disintegrated over North Texas, just 16 minutes from their landing in Florida.  The day after the tragedy, at a memorial service for the 45-year-old Husband, and for fellow astronaut, Mike Anderson, at Grace Community Church in Houston where they attended, a videotape was played where the late Rick Husband said this – "If I ended up at the end of my life having been an astronaut but having sacrificed my family along the way, or living my life in a way that didn't glorify God, then I would look back on it with great regret.  Having become an astronaut would not really have mattered all that much.  And I finally came to realize that what really meant the most to me was to try to live my life the way God wanted me to, and to try to be a good husband to Evelyn and a good father to my children."

 But there's more to Rick Husband's resolve to be a good husband and father than mere words.  Earlier that same Sunday, the day of the memorial service, I received this e-mail – "Brethren, last night" – which was the day of the space shuttle tragedy – "we attended a Steve Green concert in Carey, North Carolina.  Incidentally, Steve Green and his wife are close friends with the family of one of the astronauts, Commander Rick Husband, of the space shuttle crew.  Steve was very sobered by the loss of his friend, and the concert proceeded accordingly.  Steve described Mr. Husband as an outstanding Christian man and father.  Mr. Husband, for example, had prepared 18 devotions on video for each of his two children to view privately during the 18 days when he was in space."

Leading them in family worship by video while he was in space.  How precious do you think those videos are to that family today?  What a legacy to leave to those children whose lasting memory of their father, though young as they may have been, whose lasting memory for a lifetime of their father was him, like the family priest, leading them to the great high priests through the Word of God in prayer.  Isn't this the kind of legacy you want to leave to your children, to your grandchildren?  Isn't this what you really want to do?

Bob: Well, we have been listening to part 2 of a message from Don Whitney on the subject of family worship, and I think, again, of 3 John, verse 4, which says, "I have no greater joy than this to know that my children are walking in the truth."  And if that really is the desire of our hearts, to know that our children would walk in truth, then we need to make sure we're spending time pointing them in that direction.

Dennis: You better be introducing them to the truth.

Bob: That's right.

Dennis: And, you know, that really is, Bob, I think, a parent's primary responsibility – everything else fades in comparison to it.  Now, sure, you're going to potty train them and teach them how to ride a bike and get along at school and make grades and ultimately earn a living, but I think the ultimate assignment for parents is to introduce their children to the truth or to God.  And what better way to do it than to worship him, ascribe to Him His worth, His value and explain who He is to our children. 

 I want to give you three practical ways you can do that.  Number one, before school, just take five to 10 minutes.  You don't have to be a seminary professor as Dr. Don Whitney is.  You just need to be someone who can read a devotional, perhaps pull out "Moments Together for Couples," and read one of these daily devotionals for your children.  A lot of them are about family issues, family times, mistakes we made in our family that I think you'll be able to identify with.

 A second way you can bring family worship into a regular habit in your family is by setting aside a night a week where you're going to have a sit-down meal at the table to say, "We're going to have this meal where it's just us, no TV, no radio, no iPods, nothing – it's just the family, and we're going to read and talk about something of substance," and be able to interact during that time about God and about what the truth of His Word says about Him.

 One last way to bring family worship in with your children is to just be intentional as you go through life.  I call this, "sandbox theology."  When you're out playing with the kids, and something happens, God may be giving you an opportunity to take your child's hand in yours and place that little hand in God's hand.  Introduce your child to who God is and how He works on the planet, and sometimes that's going to occur as you're running errands or as you're picking your child up from school, and they just had a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad day.  God may be giving you an opportunity to bring God in on the level of your child so he or she can understand it.

Bob: Well, and, once again, the use of story is key to connecting with our children.  You probably remember, as I do, Dr. William Kilpatrick, who was on our program years ago, talking about moral development in children, and he said children learn morality through example, through history, and through story.  And I think the same is true with our spiritual life, our spiritual development.  The example we set as parents, there's probably nothing more important than that.  But, beyond that, as we illustrate with history, as we can show how things have worked in years gone by, and as we expose our children to stories that help engage their imagination around spiritual life, that's what helps connect them, I think, to what can be an abstract concept for a child – this whole idea that there is a transcendent God who exists outside of time and space.

 One of the tools our team came across that is helpful, I think, for parents, is a paperback book that can be read to younger children or can be read by junior, even senior high students.  It's a book called "Little Pilgrim's Progress," and if you or your children have ever found yourselves trying to read "Pilgrim's Progress," and found it hard to read because of the Old English language, this is a great way to have the essence of the story told in more modern language.

 We have copies of the paperback book, "Little Pilgrim's Progress," in our FamilyLife Resource Center and, again, it's something you could read as a part of your regular family worship at your home.  Go online at, click where it says "Today's Broadcast," and there will be more information there about this resource and other resources like the hardback book, "Hymns for a Kid's Heart."  It has a dozen different well-known hymns in it.  There's piano music, and there are guitar chords for these songs in the book so families can sing the songs together.  There are the stories behind these hymns, and there's a CD in the back so that if nobody has any particular musical ability in your home, you can still all sing along to these great hymns.

 Again, if you'd like more information about either of these resources, go to our website,, click on "Today's Broadcast," and you'll get the information you need.  You can order from our website, if you'd like.  If you order both of these resources together, we'll send you the CD of the message we've been listening to this week from Don Whitney.  That comes at no additional cost to you.  Again, the website,, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and someone on our team can make sure these resources get sent to you.

 You know, I think I had been listening to Christian radio programs for probably four or five years before it dawned on me how these programs work and how they stay on the air.  It's really a partnership between the folks who produce the program, folks like us, the radio station that is in your city that makes the airtime available and broadcasts the signal, and then the listeners who help support ministries like ours and ministries like the local radio station with their financial contributions.  It's really a three-way partnership.  And so if there are particular programs on this station that you find are helpful spiritually, I want to encourage you to consider making a contribution to one of those programs and letting them know tha you listening and you appreciate the program.  And if ours is one of those programs, we would love to hear from you.  We're listener-supported, and we depend on folks like you to make a donation to FamilyLife Today.

 This month, when you make a donation of any amount, we'd love to send you a two-CD series as a thank you gift for your contribution.  It's one of the most requested resources we featured all last year – an interview with Dr. Emerson Eggerich, who wrote the book, "Love and Respect."  We featured part of this interview a few weeks ago as we were counting down the top five programs of 2005.  And if you'd like the entire two-CD set that features these conversations, make a donation this month of any amount, and we'll be happy to send them to you.

 You can donate online at, and if you're filling out the online form, when you come to the keycode box, type in the word – well, either the word "love," or the word "respect," you can pick, and we will know that you're interested in having us send this two-CD series to you or call 1-800-FLTODAY and let the folks know when you call that you want to make a donation, and you'd like the two-CD set on "Love and Respect," with Dr. Emerson Eggerich.

 Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we are online at  Dennis?

Dennis: I received an e-mail, Bob, just today from a friend in Houston, and I was asking how he was doing in leading his family spiritually.  He'd just recently made a fresh commitment to Christ, and he was really eager, and one could almost predict I'd get the e-mail back that I received where he said, "Well, my wife's a little disappointed in me.  I've kind of fallen off the wagon in terms of leading our family spiritually."  He said, "But I'm going to repent, I'm going to get back on the wagon and, hopefully, over the rest of my days on this planet, the wagon rides will be a bit longer, and I won't be falling off quite as frequently."

 You know what?  Who hasn't fallen off the wagon?  I really identified with my friend, you know?  Who hasn't missed a night or two or a day or two of teaching your children about God and wanting to lead your children in family worship?  So dust yourself off, get back up on the wagon and keep leading.  And, as you do so, especially the guys, listen up and hear these words from Dr. Don Whitney, who has been instructing us this week on family worship.

Don: Fathers, husbands, if you have been negligent in this duty and great privilege, repent by starting family worship today.  Again, you may feel awkward, what do I say to my wife?  I don't even know what to do.  What do I say to my children?  Simply say God has convicted you of your responsibility to lead in family worship, and you want to start when you get home.  You want to start at a given time today.  Men, almost certainly your wife will be thrilled to hear you say such a thing.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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